A Long With short pants and the wide-brimmed hat, the scout law was distinctively emblematic of scouting from the very beginning. More than a code of behavior, it summarized the aspirations of an entire movement, equipped it with slogans, and provided its panacea for the social and psychic dysfunction it was attempting to treat. If scouting were to rescue Britain from its decline, the instrumentality of that regeneration would be the scout law, broadly understood and acted upon. Unlike the Ten Commandments, to which it was frequently compared, the scout law underwent a number of revisions and rewordings following its first formulation in 1908, and it is well to begin by indicating precisely which version we are talking about. As the earliest form of law and oath seems to me the most significant one, I accordingly reproduce both exactly as they appeared in the first edition of Scouting for Boys (1908), together with the important exegesis which accompanied them:
THE SCOUT 'S OATH
Before he becomes a scout a boy must take
the scout's oath, thus:
"On my honour I promise that
1. I will do my duty to God and the King.
2. I will do my best to help others, whatever it costs me.
3. I know the scout law, and will obey it."
THE SCOUT LAW
1. A scout's honour is to be trusted.
If a scout says: "On my honour it is so,"
that means that it is so, just as if he had taken a most solemn oath.
Similarly, if a scout officer says to a
scout, "I trust you on your honour to do this," the scout is bound to carry
out the order to the very best of his ability, and to let nothing interfere
with his doing so.
If a scout were to break his honour by
telling a lie, or by not carrying out an order exactly when trusted on
his honour to do so, he would cease to be a scout, and must hand over his
scout badge, and never be allowed to wear it againÑlie loses his
2. A scout is loyal to the King, and to
his officers, and to his country, and to his employers. He must stick to
them through thick and thin against anyone who is their enemy, or who even
talks badly of them.
3. A scout 's duty is to be useful and
to help others.
And he is to do his duty before everything
else, even though he gives up his own pleasure, or comfort, or safety to
do it. When in difficulty to know which of two things to do, he must ask
himself, "Which is my duty ?" that is, "Which is best for other people?"
do that one. He must Be Prepared at any time to save a life, or to help
injured persons. And he must do a good turn to somebody every day.
4. A scout is a friend to all, and a brother
to every other scout, no matter to what social class the other belongs.
Thus if a scout meets another scout, even
though a stranger to him, he must speak to him, and help him in any way
that he can, either to carry out the duty he is then doing, or by giving
him food, or, as far as possible, anything that he may be in want of. A
scout must never be a SNOB. A snob is one who looks down upon another because
he is poorer, or who is poor and resents another because he is rich. A
scout accepts the other man as he finds him, and makes the best of him.
"Kim," the boy scout, was called by the
Indians "Little friend to all the world," and that is the name that every
scout should earn for himself.
5. A scout is courteous: That is, he is
polite to allÑbut especially to women and children and old people
and invalids, cripples, etc. And he must not take any reward for being
helpful or courteous.
6. A scout is a friend to animals. He should
save them as far as possible from pain, and should not kill any animal
unnecessarily, even if it is only a flyÑfor it is one of God's creatures.
7. A scout obeys orders of his patrol leader
or scout master without question.
Even if he gets an order he does not like
he must do as soldiers and sailors do, he must carry it out all the same
because it is his duty; and after he has done it he can come and state
any reasons against it: but he must carry out the order at once. That is
8. A scout smiles and whistles under all
circumstances. When he gets an order he should obey it cheerily and readily,
not in a slow hang-dog sort of way.
Scouts never grouse at hardships, nor whine
at each other, nor swear when put out.
When you just miss a train, or some one
treads on your favourite cornnot that a scout ought to have such things
as cornsor under any annoying circumstances, you should force yourself
to smile at once, and then whistle a tune, and you will be all right.
A scout goes with a smile on and whistling.
It cheers him and cheers other people, especially in time of danger, for
he keeps it up then all the same.
The punishment for swearing or using bad
language is for each offense a mug of cold water to be poured down the
offender's sleeve by the other scouts. It was the punishment invented by
the old British scout, Captain John Smith, three hundred years ago.
9. A scout is thrifty, that is, he saves every penny he can, and puts it into the bank, so that he may have money to keep himself when out of work, and thus not make himself a burden to others; or that he may have money to give away to others when they need it.
Several differences between the scout law
and the Ten Commandments readily present themselves. In the first place,
as we see, there were originally only nine laws. Although Robert Baden-Powell,
the founder of the scouts, was as hostile to all forms of sexual indulgence
and particularly the dread sin of "selfabuse" as any moralist of the time,
his famous exhortation"A scout is pure in thought, word and deed"was not
added to the canon until 1911. As purity would ordinarily seem a more urgent
matter than cheerfulness, kindness to animals, or thrift, it might be asked
why the scouts were given three years in which to revel with impunity among
their basest impulses. The answer, I think, lies in the determinedly social
character of the original laws. Baden-Powell was interested above all else
in producing a serviceable and reliable boy who could always be trusted
to act in predictable ways. The stress is on responsible functioning rather
than proper states of being, and in this respect purity is secondary to
cheerful obedience. For Baden-Powell, the laws Moses brought down from
the mountain and those delivered from scout headquarters to the youth of
Britain differed in the latter's lack of prohibitions. As Baden-Powell
proudly and frequently pointed out, there are no negatives in the scout
law. Where other ethical systems tell what not to do, the scout law tells
what should be done:
Moses gave the ten commandments to the
Jews as to how they should behave but these were laws which all said: DON'T
do this, and DON'T do that.
Now I know that a real red-blooded boy
is all for action, ready for any adventure. He just hates to be nagged
You must not do this you must not do that."
He wants to know what he can do. So I thought why should we not have our
own Law for Scouts, and I jotted down ten things that a fellow needs to
do as his regular habit if he is going to be a real man.
By not blunting the red-blooded boy's enthusiasm
with niggling restrictions, the scout law, Baden-Powell insisted, would
exploit the opportunities for the development of the individual. But in
fact, Baden-Powell's protestations notwithstanding, scout law has very
little to do with the development of the individual, except as that development
is seen as a product of absolute submission to all officially endorsed
forms of authority. However free from any taint of prohibition, the scout
law essentially celebrates one quality only obedience. The most succinct
and telling summary of the scout law can be found not in any of the commentary
it generated but in the closing stanza of Kipling's "Law of the Jungle":
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and
the haunch and hump is -- Obey!
Baden-Powell's concern for or obsession
with obedience can be seen in the rather peculiar structural redundancy
of the scout oath (later known as the scout promise) and the scout law.
Although the law's explicit injunctions to do one's duty and follow orders
would seem sufficient to convince even the most skeptical about the reliability
of the scouts, Baden-Powell felt he also had to guarantee commitment to
the law. Hence the oath, requiring the scout to promise to obey all the
strictures of obedience contained in the law. It is hard not to see the
constraints of the oath as superfluous, but Baden-Powell was clearly leaving
nothing to chance:
In order to make sure that a Scout will
carry out the Scout Law he makes a promise to do so
While the first two parts of the oath merely
state the ideals of duty and helpfulness on which the law elaborates, the
third documents Baden-Powell's vigilance.
But the oath is interesting in another
way. Asking a scout to promise on his honor to do three things, it requires
only that he do his best to help others. The notion of holding scouts to
some absolute standard of conduct, rather than simply asking for their
best effort, bothered Baden-Powell considerably during scouting's early
years. The 1909 edition of Scouting for Boys extends doing one's best to
the entire initial promise ("On my honour, I will do my best"), and not
merely to helping others; in 1910, the promise is again absolute, with
best effort associated only with helping people; in 1911, there is no mention
at all of doing one's best; yet in the 1912 regulations it once again governs
all the obligations of the oath:
On my honour I promise that I will do My
best To do my duty to God and the King, To help other people at all times,
To obey the Scout Law,
where it remained.
Baden-Powell's concern for the proper deployment
of "doing one's best" suggests a strain basic to scouting from its beginning,
between the principled and the pragmatic. While scouting built its appeal
on unwavering standards, it always remained sensitive to the fallibility
of its members and to the danger that too strict a program of demands might
discourage many boys from joining a movement meant to embrace all the youth
of Britain. Asking only that one do one's best so that a scout who occasionally
fell short of his best intentions need not feel that he had violated his
oath exemplifies the care with which Baden-Powell looked after the health
of his movement. Another instance of his concern that standards not diminish
numbers can be found in a new section of Tests for Badges which he added
to the second (1909) edition of Scouting for Boys. Here he cautions scoutmasters
against demanding "too high a standard of proficiency before awarding a
badge," fearing that an unyielding insistence on a particular level of
achievement ; might demoralize those who fail. Although the proficiency
badges purport to signify mastery of some skill, he stresses that "A fair
average standard of proficiency is therefore all that is required." And
he ends this section by exhorting scoutmasters to remember their larger
Scoutmasters will remember that our policy
is to get numbers. We don't want a select "corps d'elite, " but we want
to put a taste of the right spirit into every boy we can possibly get hold
of. There are three million boys wanting it. (Baden-Powell's emphasis.)
What, then, precisely is the law that the
scouts must promise to do their best to uphold? It is above all a protracted
call for absolute obedience. Of the original nine laws, six have as their
essential thrust the scout's unquestioning loyalty and his absolute willingness
to carry out any orders given him. Only the obligation that a scout be
courteous, a friend to animals, and thriftyÑthree of the rather
smaller claims, by any reckoningÑaddress other concerns. For Baden-Powell,
not only is the "dull lad who can obey orders . . . better than a sharp
one who cannot," but it is only the former who can qualify to be a scout.
The stress on obedience begins by asserting
that the scout's honor is to be trusted. As the commentary makes clear,
the scout is put to the test when he is charged, on his honor, to carry
out an order from his scout officer, letting nothing interfere with his
Although Baden-Powell's brief commentary
mentions that a scout's honor should preclude the possibility of lying,
the abstract principle points to the rather more concrete notion that a
scout's honor is a good guarantee that he will do what he is told. Failure
to follow orders risks disgrace and even expulsion from the movement. Baden-Powell
wraps the threat in an effective rhetorical package. Having first declared,
in Scouting for Boys, that the scout's badge "represents and is called
his 'life,'" he then completes the grim logic of this definition: the loss
of badge means the malefactor "loses his life." The metaphoric excess of
equating badge with life was clearly designed to help the scout cherish
his affiliation with the movement and strive to meet its demands.
The commitment to obedience implicit in
the first law's notion of honor is reinforced by the second's postulation
of loyaltyÑto King, officers, country, and employers. The last,
of course, is a startling constituency, one which caused Baden-Powell some
difficulty. During the next few years various statements of the law omitted
(while others retained) mention of loyalty to employer, and in 1917 some
of its socially reactionary implications were muted by the addition of
the phrase, "and to those under him." Nevertheless the matter continued
to rankle. As the clause was introduced precisely to counter the agitation
of Socialists and Trade Unions, which Baden-Powell abhorred, it was no
surprise that organized labor would object to a stipulation of loyalty
which. virtually equated employers with King and country. The scout executive
committee addressed the issue in 1930, trying to reduce the opposition
to scouting in certain parts of the labor movement. At least four separate
solutions were suggested:
1) To use the word "employment " instead
2) To cut down the definition and leave
the law asÑA Scout is loyal to King and countryÑthis being
what is done by the Girl Guides Association.
3) That the Law should read after the words
"King and country" "and to those over and under him."
4) To read "A Scout is loyal to his King
and country and to others to whom loyalty is due."
Baden-Powell's response to these proposals
suggests how important the unquestioned allegiance of boy to employer was
to his whole conception of scouting's regenerative role in British society:
Re the proposal to omit from Scout Law
"Loyalty to Employer"ÑThe objection has been raised by socialists
to this. They maintain that the boy should be loyal rather to his Trades
Union than to his employer. But boys don't as a rule, I believe, belong
to Trades Unions, so there is no harm in their being loyal to their employers.
It is their duty and they should be reminded of it. The fact that we do
put it to them is the reason why so many employers prefer to give employment
We could, if it is considered necessary
to meet socialist views, add: A Scout is loyal to . . . his employer, his
Trades Union and to those under him.
No agreement was reached, and the clause
remained the same, but the discussion usefully exposes some of scouting's
unacknowledged political concerns. Though Baden-Powell prided himself on
the nonpolitical nature of scouting, requiring loyalty to an employer at
a time when labor's power was growing was by no means the simple moral
act that Baden-Powell liked to pretend it was. And a politically canny
disingenuousness colors his remark to his committee that since the subject
is boys, not adults old enough to belong to Trade Unions, no friction should
exist between scouting and labor.
As revealing as the inclusion of employers
in the second law's hierarchy of loyalties is its original silence about
parents. Not until 1912 were scouts enjoined to show loyalty to their parents,
with the new obligation inserted between "officers" and "country." What
might seem a peculiar omissionÑparents, after all, constitute a
traditional source of moral authorityÑmakes sense in the light of
Baden-Powell's assumption that lower-class parents were incapable of exercising
proper influence on their children. His conviction that poverty was engendered
by the moral fecklessness of the poor implied a need to remove children
from the pernicious control of parents who were unable to look after themselves.
When he writes in the first edition of Scouting for Boys that of the two
million boys in Great Britain "only 270,000 are under good influences outside
their school walls," he implicitly denies that the remaining 1,730,000,
who "are drifting towards 'hooliganism" or bad citizenship," receive any
adequate training from their indifferent or impoverished parents. Parents
were initially omitted from the list of scout loyalties because Baden-Powell
saw them as part of the problem, not the solution. And even if working-class
parents were concerned with their sons' development, BadenPowell realized,
they would not be likely to teach dutiful acceptance of a status in life
with which they themselves were discontent. Scouting thus offered itself
not as a complement to but a substitute for misguided or nonexistent home
For Baden-Powell it was essential, then,
to free the early scouts from their malefic home environments. But by 1912,
with the movement turning away from the hard-core hooligan (who was never
seriously recruited in any case) toward the more malleable and respectable
sons of the lower-middle class, the silence about parental loyalty became
a public relations liability. Elevating parents in 1912 to the status originally
granted scout officers, monarchs, and employers testifies not to Baden-Powell's
changed attitudes towards the nobility of parenthood but to the firm class
awareness which always pervaded scout thinking.
Whether it be loyalty to employers, scout
officers, country, or parents, no commitment should be disturbed by critical
inquiry. Scouts must feel a passionate conviction of cause that makes unnecessary
any exercise of independent judgment. Even to entertain the thought of
imperfection is to be guilty of grave betrayal. Exhorting scouts to resist
not just those who oppose authority but even those who speak badly of it,
Baden-Powell expresses both his own notable inability to handle criticism
of any sort as well as an unsettling new national ideal. Scout loyalty
must be absolute and unquestioningÑthe loyalty of the well-trained
soldier in the field.
A loyal scout is clearly one who is useful
and does his duty, and here the third and seventh laws merge with the first
two in defining the serviceable and obedient youth Baden-Powell seeks.
Two slightly different conceptions of duty are suggested by the two laws.
The third holds that the scout's duty is to be useful, and the seventh
that it is his duty to obey orders even if he doesn't like them, as any
proper soldier or sailor would. Both emphases call for rejecting self-interest
in order to serve the greater good of the community. For Baden-Powell,
whether it be in automatically obeying one's scoutmaster or in helping
others, preferably at the expense of one's own pleasure, comfort, or safety,
the salutary negation of self is the end to be achieved. The scout who
does his duty is not likely to shirk national service or yield to the seductions
of socialist propaganda. The fully indoctrinated scout would be a sturdy
brick in that wall of empire which Baden-Powell was trying to build for
The whistling, cheerful scout is no trivialization
of scouting's character ideal. Indeed, quite the opposite, as Baden-Powell's
gloss makes clear. A happy demeanor becomes the only acceptable response
to receiving an order. The scout must promptly do what he is told, and
do it with a smile. Expressions of dissatisfaction, like hostile criticism,
only reveal moral weakness in the grumbler. The smiling scout, by contrast,
is both properly deferential to authority and sets a telling model for
others. The cheery exterior matters because of its practical consequences:
in times of danger, it can help encourage more timorous souls. Baden-Powell's
own whistling insouciance during the siege of Mafeking, demonstrating how
little the empire had to fear from the raggle-taggle Boers, exemplified
the intention of the eighth law.
Scouting's purported classlessness is also
mandated by the law. Like members of most fraternal organizations, scouts
are expected to help other scouts, "no matter to what social class the
other belongs." Ironically, the directive to overlook class distinctions
seems to sharpen rather than obliterate the class consciousness implicit
in scouting. Not all scouts are the same, but they must be treated as if
they were, and the admonition to ignore social differences serves as a
reminder that such differences do exist. But as rigid class distinctions
are simply part of the divine structure of things, Baden-Powell is concerned
only that they not be allowed to disturb the unity of the scouts. For the
wall to stand firm, the rich must not scorn the underprivileged, and the
underprivileged must not envy the rich. "A Scout must never be a SNOB,"
the fourth law warns, emphasizing that the type includes not only the wealthy
person who looks down upon another because he is poor, but "one who is
poor and resents another because he is rich." The distinction points to
Baden-Powell's concern, which the scouting movement as a whole embodied,
that the poor be content with their lot. AcceptanceÑof the social
order, of one's station in life, of the privileges of othersÑis
the key to social harmony.
Baden-Powell also insists that his scouts
be courteous, kind to animals, and thriftyÑperfectly admirable characteristics
which yet stand at a distance from the obedience-engendering center of
the scout law. Of these, courtesy and thrift are the more significant.
However appealing in itself, courtesy is also a trait which the upper classes
are especially glad to find exhibited by the lower. Obedience flavored
with courtesy is far more gratifying than mere sullen acquiescence. The
polite scout, while the butt of much satire, also helped sell the adult
world on the goodness of scouting. Baden-Powell well understood that the
public impression the scouts made would be crucial in creating enthusiasm
and support for them, and he was always very conscious of the usefulness
of their smart, well-behaved appearance.
The scout's thriftiness is another sign
of the ideology which permeates scouting. The virtue of thrift, for rich
or poor alike, needs no apology, even if it is rather more easily managed
by the rich. But as Baden-Powell spells out the value of thriftÑby
building up savings the scout can avoid making himself "a burden to others"
in times of unemploymentÑwe can see precisely to whom this is addressed
and why. For surely the public-school boy would be little concerned with
employment, much less unemployment. The exhortation to thrift is directed
at the lowerclass lads who left school at fourteen to help support their
families. Like other youth reformers, Baden-Powell imagined that it was
drink, gambling, smoking, and other such expensive indulgences which accounted
for the grinding poverty of the working classes. If only they would husband
their resources more wisely, they would avoid the desperate economic plight
in which they frequently found themselves, a plight about which of course
the state had to concern itself. The savings account, suggesting both diagnosis
and remedy, indicates the degree of complexity of BadenPowell's social
vision, within which the appeal to thrift becomes a way of solving a difficult
problem without having to face up to to its difficulty.
That a scout should be a friend to animals
is perhaps the least resonant and most unexceptionable of the laws, even
if the caution against the needless slaughter of flies seems excessive.
What is interesting here is less the admonition against hurting or killing
animals than the extent to which Baden-Powell's own practices and passions
violated this precept. For he was an avid hunter, and his autobiographical
writings, particularly those dealing with his experiences in India and
Africa, are filled with the joys of a good kill. Even more telling is his
absolute obsession with the joys of pigsticking,or boarhunting, which he
thought the noblest of sports and frequently celebrated in painstaking
detail. A champion pigsticker, he wrote what was perhaps the first, and
certainly then (1889) the best book on the subject. I will not analyze
his argument for the social usefulnessÑindeed necessityÑof
the sport, beyond noting that he finds it absolutely "invaluable to our
prestige and supremacy in India," a sport "at once proving and preserving
our rightful claim to superiority as a dominant race."
For our discussion of the sixth law, what
matters is not the complicated imperial utility Baden-Powell claims for
pigsticking so much as the strong but uneasy pleasure he takes in the violent
confrontation of boar, horse, and man: "It is a rough, wild sport, with
perhaps a taint of barbarism about it if examined critically and in the
abstract." Elsewhere he admits, "I am not sure that I am not a bit of a
bully myself, because I must confess to being very fond of one sport which
is undoubtedly cruel." Reveling in its pleasuresÑ"Yes, hog-hunting
is a brutal sportÑand yet I loved it"Ñhe finds it fulfilling
not only for the British hunter, whose manhood is realized in the bloody
encounter, but even for the doomed boar himself who presumably has little
opportunity to express his own pleasure in the fray.
There is no doubt that it is the most exciting
work that a man can go in for. At the same time the horse without a doubt
enjoys it almost as much as his rider, and the pig, too, being endowed
with a fighting and bloodthirsty nature as well as a particularly tough
and unfeeling nervous system, seems to revel in the fight up to the bitter
Making everybody happyÑ"Not only
is pig-sticking the most exciting and enjoyable sport for both the man
and horse as well, but I really believe that the boar enjoys it too." It
is clear why Baden-Powell honors it as "the premier sport of India." Given
these enthusiasms, the sixth law's caution against unnecessarily hurting
any of God's creatures seems more a specific class sanction than an absolute
principle, designed to ensure that the nonhunting classes treat their domestic
animalsÑdogs, cats, and horsesÑwith the same respect they
accord their human betters. Presumably the ruling class must continue to
hunt as a vital (and visible) part of its self-definition.
These nine laws, supplemented by the tenth
(on purity) in 1911, provided the program for the moral redemption which
scouting promised to kindle throughout Great Britain. The scout law would
instill that strength of character that was so sadly lacking in the youth
of the nation, and that neither parental care nor the conventional methods
of school instruction could produce.
The scout law derived much of its mystique
from an alleged connection to the knightly code of King Arthur and his
Round Table. Drawing on the special nationalistic feeling aroused by Arthur
and his Knights, Baden-Powell endlessly stressed the noble origins of his
law. Just as the modern Japanese inherited their Bushido from the ancient
samurai, so the scouts can find in the heroic exploits of Arthur and his
followers the origins of their own code of conduct. Baden-Powell hammers
away at this relationship, producing numerous versions of knightly behavior
with which the scout law could be compared. While the codes he adduces
differ in detail, all bear a remarkable resemblance to the scout law. In
Scouting for Boys, for example, these are the laws he attributes to chivalry:
· Be Always Ready, with your armour on, except when you are taking your rest at night.
· Defend the poor, and help them that cannot defend themselves.
· Do nothing to hurt or offend anyone else.
· Be prepared to fight in the defence of England.
At whatever you are working try and win honour and a name for honesty.
· Never break your promise.
· Maintain the honour of your country with your life.
· Rather die honest than live shamelessly.
Chivalry requireth that youth should be
trained to perform the most laborious and humble offences with cheerfulness
and grace; and to do good unto others.
(It is interesting to see how he adjusts
the code to suit the presumably less violent female sensibility: in the
Handbook for Girl Guides the knightly code omits all explicit reference
Aids to Scouting offers a generally similar
knightly code as it was "republished in the time of Henry VII," and in
Yarns for Boy Scouts Baden-Powell explicitly identifies King Arthur as
"the founder of British Scouts, since he first started the Knights of England."
The fellowship which Baden-Powell tells us (incorrectly) that Arthur formed
on the day of his marriage held the Knights to these obligations:
· To reverence Cod.
· To be loyal to the King.
· To be kind and merciful to all.
· To be always courteous and helpful to women.
· To keep away from fighting except in a high and just cause.
· To be always honourable and true.
be always obedient in the laws of Knighthood.
And he points out other parallels between
scouts and knights. As the knight must perform his duties, so the scout
must pass his tests to earn membership. The scout's uniform is like the
knight's armor; the badge the scout receives on joining his patrol is matched
by the gold spurs and shield given to the knight when he is accepted into
brotherhood; the scout's "Be Prepared" echoes the knight's motto of "Be
Ready." And just as the knight who breaks his oath is disgraced, so the
scout who fails to keep his word is "no longer an honourable, manly fellow,
but merely a weak boy who makes a promise one minute and then has not the
grit to stick to it. We don't want such fellows in the Scouts; we don't
want them in our country." In becoming a scout, the young man joins that
ancient brotherhood whose charge was to keep Britain great, to protect
it not only from external attack but from the effeminate, the grousers,
the wastrels, the liars, the cowards, and the selfish who imperil it from
If we disregard the bogus knightly trappings
with which Baden-Powell sought to costume the moral authority of the scout
law, we find a rather more modern, and decidedly less exalted model for
it in Baden-Powell's address to the staff of the South African Constabulary
upon his departure from the Corps in February 1903, before he had been
challenged by Sir William Smith of the Boys' Brigade to think about a scheme
of youth training. Sounding the same urgent lament which we hear throughout
scoutingÑ "For all classes of society we find too little real patriotism
and unselfishness, and too much looking after 'No. 1'"ÑBaden-Powell
exhorts his men to standards of conduct which sound distinctly familiar:
To sum up, I urge each of you, whatever
your rank, to:Ñ
A) Keep improving yourself in efficiency
and smoothness in proformance [sic] of your duties.
B) Avoid doing anything low or underhand
or such as might lessen your personal respect for yourself.
C) Be guided by what you know to be your
duty rather than by what is easiest or most pleasant to yourself.
D) Carry out your orders or tackle differences
when they arise, with willingness and cheerily.
E) Conceal nothing from your superior officers,
and be loyal to them and to the Corps.
F) Be helpful and courteous to all.
The emphasis on loyalty, duty, and honor,
and the specific mention of helpfulness, courtesy, and cheerfulness, effectively
make this the first rough version of what later was to emerge as the scout
law. At least six of the nine laws appear here in varying degrees of clarity.
There is, of course, no rule against someone's thinking being consistent,
but it is particularly significant, given the extravagant moral claims
made (by Baden-Powell among others) for the law, to find its origins not
in some heroic, chivalric past but in a typewritten memo hacked out in
South Africa by the retiring head of a military police force worried about
the efficiency, loyalty, and appearance of his unit, and by the difficulties
complainers can make for administrators. Scouting's stress on duty and
obedience derives not so much from some potent moral tradition as from
the ordinary emotional and intellectual baggage which Baden-Powell, as
a military man, carried with him everywhere. The model is less the unique
moral splendor of a Sir Galahad than the vision of corporate harmony found
in a smoothly functioning South African Constabulary.
Promising a selfless race of young men
prepared to follow orders and do their duty even at the risk of their own
lives, scouting, not surprisingly, was immediately and enthusiastically
embraced by Britain's political establishment. The Royal Charter it was
granted in 1912 acknowledged that same sense of a huge but smoothly-running
social mechanism which Baden-Powell found emblemized in the engine room
of the steamship Orsova:
And it is indeed an impressive sight to
stand below these great monsters of steel and watch them faithfully and
untiringly pounding out their work, all in order and exactly in agreement
with each other, taking no notice of night or day, of storm or calm, but
slinging along at all times, doing their duty with an energetic goodwill
which makes them seem almost humanÑalmost like gigantic Boy Scouts.
The scout law remains the most explicitly
didactic statement of scouting's mission, "the foundation," as Baden-Powell
noted, "on which the whole of Scout Training rests." But if adherence to
the law promoted the character-type Baden-Powell wished to encourage, the
law in itself was hardly sufficient to make that type appealing to the
youth of Great Britain. For this, he had to rely on another set of skills,
which fortunately he possessed in abundance. He was a hugely prolific and
successful popular writer, churning out over fifty books of wisdom on every
subjectÑsocial, political, psychological, and sexualÑof conceivable
interest to the male adoslescent. Like every successful writer (and teacher),
BadenPowell knew how to embody abstract principles in compelling examples:
his work, particularly Scouting for Boys, teems with stirring vignettes
of the behavior which scouting sought to inculcate. His tendentious, at
times cliched, but always readable prose endlessly elaborates on the vision
and values outlined by the scout law, within a marvelously simplistic world
in which boys can romp while receiving only the most bracing ethical inspiration.
In broad scope Baden-Powell's books might
be likened to the work of Samuel Smiles, the Victorian apostle of success
whose manuals of moral instruction like Duty, Thrift, Character, and SelfHelp
attempted to enlighten the Victorian middle class, or to school primers
like H. D. Arnold-Forster's The Citizen Reader, whose stated purpose was
to describe "the duties owed by British Citizens to their country, their
countrymen, and themselves." Common to all three writers is the use of
the graphic example, drawn from (or at least attributed to) real history,
which spells out with absolute clarity the lessons to be learned. Baden-Powell's
favorite example, appearing in a number of his books, including Scouting
for Boys, and also in The Citizen Reader, concerns the sinking in 1852
of the Birkenhead, a transport carrying soldiers and their families. As
the ship began to break up off the Cape of Good Hope, it was discovered
that there were not enough life boats for everyone:
so the men were ordered to remain in their
ranks. Then the ship broke in half and began to go down. The captain shouted
to the men to jump over and save themselves, but the colonel, Colonel Seaton,
said, "No, keep your ranks." For he saw that if they swam to the boats,
and tried to get in, they would probably sink them too. So the men kept
their ranks, and as the ship rolled over and sank, they gave a cheer and
went down with her. Out of the whole 760 on board, only 192 were saved,
but even those would probably have been lost had it not been for the discipline
and self-sacrifice of the others.
(Commenting on an early gramophone record
made to celebrate this heroic moment, British historian V. G. Kiernan caustically
notes, "Why they did not swim ashore instead [as a quarter of them did
in the end] is a question that only later, smaller minds would think of.
This was the parade-ground spirit at its sublimes.")
The exemplary behavior of these British
soldiers, dying in disciplined ranks and with a cheer, is amplified by
various instances of Japanese self-slaughter which Baden-Powell singles
out for praise. In Boy Scouts Beyond the Seas, he tells of fortyseven Japanese
ronin who, after avenging the death of their master, commit hara-kiri together.
Baden-Powell cautions his readers that the ronin were not necessarily right
in killing their master's enemy, but he adds that it is interesting to
see that even in those days people thought a lot of men who were manly
and loyal to their leader, and who were not afraid to sacrifice themselves,
even by the most painful of death, in order to do their duty.
The extremes to which the Japanese may
go to demonstrate loyalty always earn Baden-Powell's admiration. Hara-kiri
seems particularly attractive to him as a means of honoring a traditional
chivalric code. Commenting on the way some Japanese soldiers in the Russo-Japanese
war refused to surrender when overcome by the Russians, he notes that
They did not kill themselves by the easy
method of shooting themselves, but by the painful way of disemboweling
themselves with their swords. They did this because it was the more honourable
way in which the Samurai or Knights of Japan did it.
It is not only soldiers, however, who should
give up their lives gladly. In Yarns for Boy Scouts, Baden-Powell recounts
the heroism of a Japanese boy whose father was being pursued by bandits.
When the bandits finally kill a man whom they believe to be the boy's father,
they bring the boy to identify the body. The son realizes that they have
killed the wrong man, but he must exhibit sufficient grief to convince
the bandits that they did indeed kill his father who is presumably hiding
nearby. The most authentic display of despair he can fashion is to kill
himselfÑwhich he promptly does. Baden-Powell's approval is unqualified:
Well, he was a plucky boy, wasn't he? He
is one example for every boy, and especially every Scout, to follow in
Being Prepared to give up all, even his own life if necessary, for the
sake of another.
That is what is meant by "Bushido," or
Although Japanese models aboundÑwith
the seizure of Port Arthur from the Russians in 1904, Japan suddenly thrust
itself on British consciousness as the perfect illustration of what unquestioning
obedience, fervent patriotism, and compulsory military service could accomplishÑit
is not just the Japanese who can give up their lives for someone else.
Consider the case of Currie, a lad of eighteen, who saw a little girl playing
on the railway line at Clydebank in front of an approaching train. He tried
to rescue her, but he was lame from an injury he had got at football, and
it delayed him in getting her clear. The train knocked both of them over,
and both were killed.
But Currie's gallant attempt is an example
of chivalry for scouts to follow. It was sacrifice of himself in the attempt
to save the child. And while dying certainly helps somehow to authenticate
the act, loyalty can be demonstrated even by the living, as shown by the
behavior on maneuvers of a cadet at Reigate Grammar School, who, when posted
as sentry, was accidentially left on his post when the field day was over.
But though night came on, and it was very coldÑin November lastÑthe
lad stuck to his post till he was found in the middle of the night, half
perished with cold, but alive and alert.
Boys who emulate such selfless heroism,
along with that of the Light Brigade, Nelson, Sir Ernest Shackelton, General
Gordon, and others, have the satisfaction of knowing they are part of that
elite corps of "manly" menÑnot just Arthur and his knights or the
brave British soldiers and sailors, but also a host of intrepid pioneers
and frontiersmen, trappers, and scoutsÑwhom BadenPowell has assembled
to appeal to youthful imaginations. By melding them all into an ideal of
true masculinity, Baden-Powell makes clear the consequences for those who
don't share their values:
Every boy ought to learn how to shoot and
to obey orders, else he is no more good when war breaks out than an old
i The brotherhood of scouts consists ofreal
men in every sense of the word...they understand living out in the jungles,
and they can find their way anywhere...
they know bow to look after their health
when far away from any doctors, are strong and plucky, and ready to face
any danger, and always keen to help each other. They are accustomed to
take their lives in their hands, and to fling them down without hesitation
if they can help their country by doing so.
They give up everything, their personal
comforts and desires, in order to get their work done. They do not do all
this for their own amusement, but because it is their duty to their king,
fellow-countrymen, or employers.
In scouting's cult of masculinity, indifference
to the pleasures of shooting, or the outdoors, or danger puts one's manhood
in doubt. What remains are old women, squealing rabbits, or worse.
Obedience, a sense of duty, the willingness
to sacrifice oneself to a larger purposeÑthese are all qualities
which most cultures, in one way or another, attempt to encourage. And for
Great Britain, shamed by the Boer War, concerned about the vulnerability
of its vast empire and the specter of social unrest among its own laboring
classes, it is comprehensible why a program of indoctrination which purported
to address such national anxieties would be officially sanctioned by a
Royal Charter. But whatever the social utility of scoutings conception
of character, it is hard not to notice its restricted emotional and intellectual
premises, its hatred of dissent, its contempt for "feminine" attitudes,
its fear of the independent critical mind. The question of what scout character
was about was seldom asked. One of the few to raise it was John Hargrave,
originally the Commissioner of Woodcraft for the movement, who later left
the scouts to form his own youth organization, the Kibbo Kift Kindred.
Writing in 1919 in The Trail, the magazine of the London Scout Council,
Hargarve expressed those doubts which made his resignation from scouting
What exactly are we good for? To make boys
of good character? But are we certain of what a 'good character" consists?
Was Tolstoy a good character"?Ñthe man who was up against his kingÑthe
man who tried to follow the Christ? Was William Penn a "good character"?Ñthe
man who would not accept the religious dogmas and creeds of his timeÑthe
man who broke away from the State Church and whose followers were imprisoned
because they believed law and the slave trade to be wrong?
Or is it only the Nelsons, the Drakes,
the Wellingtons, and the Napoleons who, having stood for King and Empire
by force, we should hold up to the Soout as "good characters"? . . .
To-day we want men who are determined to
"alter things." Are we training them, to think openly in every direction
(even in the direction in which we wish they wouldn't), or are they bound
to the same old wheel of convention upon which the whole world went cycling
into the most bloody and unchristian war ever waged by mankind?
Hargrave's questions accurately reveal the limitations in scouting conception of character. Intent upon creating that patriotic, serviceable citizen who will loyally perform his duty, scouting fell prey to the narrowest kind of parochialism. Presenting one model of behavior to be admired, it utterly neglected the richness of individual preference and difference, closing itself off entirely from the claim of human variety. As Hargrave pointed out, there was no room in scouting for dissenters, doubters, visionaries, or any other subversive individualists. Obedience to the stateÑand the willingness to sacrifice for itÑbecomes the sole measure of personal worth. The questioning intelligence is a danger that cannot be tolerated; the self is perceived as something to be suppressed, not nourished. Scouting envisions a world of fixed values and simple answers. The world is firmly divided into two distinct sidesÑthe empire and the otherÑand all that is required of the scout is that he "play the game" with pluck and good sportsmanship so that his side may win, Scouting promised to equip Great Britain with the disciplined human resources needed to defeat its enemies; appealing as such a solution was to a nation worried about its might, it was one which finally raised more problems than it solved.
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